Sunday, 27 November 2016

Running and Swimming

Twins Amitai and Gavriel are another couple of kids who receive customised cards for their birthdays every year. Last year they were into tennis and basketball, and prior to that they were both playing the cello and doing gymnastics. This year, when they turned 10, they (yes, they put in their own requests!) Mum had new ideas for their cards.
Amitai's favourite colour is yellow. He likes to go running and, while doing so, enjoys listening to music using his Marley in-ear headphones with their colourful braided cable. Mum was quite specific about the clothes he prefers to run in. I have shown Amitai wearing his black NIKE shorts and his striped adidas trainers. He also recently joined the Sayarut youth movement which is run by The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, so I added the logo of the youth movement and some trees to his card.
Gavriel favours the colour red. One of his favourite things is his swimming class and he also loves to play with Lego. I have shown him playing in the water, with a pair of orange and blue goggles on his head.
Both boys look pretty pleased with their cards, don't you think?

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

"PAW Patrol is on a roll!"

Young Benjamin recently turned 5. His Mum is diligent about ordering my cards for her children's birthdays, so Benjamin receives one of my customised birthday cards every year, just as his brothers do. Last year Benjamin was getting a trampoline for his birthday, so I showed him jumping on a trampoline on his card. This year Mum told me that he was receiving a new bicycle. I copied the photo she sent me of the bicycle as accurately as I could.
Benjamin is also a fan of the Canadian animated television series PAW Patrol. Honestly I'd never heard of it before (my own kids are way past the cartoons stage) but I soon found some cute images of the six PAW Patrol rescue dogs who work together to protect their community, then added a little white paw print for good measure.
Finally I popped a cycle helmet on Benjamin's head - important if he is going to go riding on his new bicycle - and added a big red number 5 to the card.
A customer asked me for a selection of cards with floral decoration on the front. Thankfully I am kept so busy making my larger customised cards that it has been some time since I made some of these designs on slightly smaller cards. They were fun to make.
Finally, one of my nephews in the UK had a birthday not so long ago. I made him a papercut card, cutting out his initial by hand from white stock then lining the card with a green paper inlay.
I hope he liked it.

Thursday, 17 November 2016


Sixteen seems like an important age here in Israel. Now he is sixteen my eldest son can open his first bank account; will receive his Tzav Rishon, or the "First Draft Notice," from the Israeli army which is used to set his physical profile and kaba (a general score which tells the army what you are fit to join, and is made up of the dapar, a score due to your education, and your personal interview). He can also learn to drive.
He'll begin the process by taking a medical and eye exam, followed by a theoretical test. Once those bases have been covered, my son will sign up for 28 driving lessons with an instructor before he can take his Mivchan Shlita, the practical driving test. Fingers crossed that he'll pass because it's an expensive process! 
My son asked for driving lessons for his birthday, so this year's birthday card simply had to reflect that. I have shown him waving from the driver's seat of my new white car (he won't really be learning to drive in it - phew!). I am sitting next to him with my hands covering my eyes! There is an Israeli L-plate on the front of the car. The plate shares the general design of Israeli information signs in its square form and blue background. On the blue background is a white triangle pointing upwards, with the black Hebrew letter "ל" in it, from the Hebrew למידה‎ - "Learning".
It seems that birthday celebrations as the kids get older are not the 'palava' they once were. Once upon a time I would prepare party games and write invitations, assemble party bags and ice cupcakes with their friends names on them. Of course all of that is no longer needed. Mister Handmade in Israel and I did help with the shopping and preparations, and I did cut up a big Israeli salad and a few pitot, but then we went out and left my son happily barbecuing with his friends. And when we came home, they had even tidied up and bagged up all the rubbish!
I did make cake though. Two of them to be exact. One for the barbecue and one for his big day.
You can never have too much cake.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Making the Desert Bloom

In the last few weeks we've celebrated Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, closely followed by the festival of Sukkot. Sukkot commemorates the years that the Jews spent in the desert on their way to the Promised Land. The six days between the festivals of Sukkot and Simchat Torah are referred to as Chol Hamoed, or "weekdays [of] the festival". My Dad came over from the UK for a long visit and together we explored more of this wonderful little country, mostly without the kids who had their own plans. First we headed south into the Negev desert.
The first lookout point established in the Negev in modern times, Mitzpe Gvulot (the Gvulot Observation Point), was founded in May 1943. It was built entirely of mud and straw bricks by twelve young people who intended to watch over and guard the land purchased by the Jewish National Fund, and also to study the climate and conditions on the ground before future settlement and agricultural development. The settlers in fact found the soil was very suitable, but the lack of water was a major difficulty, as it is today. In contrast to other such reconstructions, which are usually in the heart of flourishing agricultural areas, the first buildings of Mitzpe Gvulot are still surrounded by desert. Trees planted over the years by the JNF are visible in the distance, but one can still feel the loneliness that must have surrounded those first settlers.
Among the various exhibits displayed at Mitzpe Gvulot (meaning "Borders") is a reconstruction of a unique water collecting system which was built to supply water for agriculture and for the settlers' daily needs, Mekorot’s first water pipe, and a bakery which was built during the War of Independence which served as a regional bakery during the siege. Yeast supplies were dropped onto the outpost grounds by a light plane each day.
We walked through the JNF (Jewish National Fund) Room which served as the living quarters of JNF officials involved in purchasing lands in the Negev, and looked at the dusty remains of the diamond polishing plant that formerly operated at the site. Another thing to see is the room in which residents hosted local Bedouin. This room served also as a clinic, where the local physician, Dr. Diamant, who lived among the settlers, would treat the local Bedouin. They would seek his services and even summon him to their tents to treat urgent cases. To this day there is a peg where a skirt would hang, so the women living at Mitzpe Gvulot, who normally wore shorts, could greet the Bedouin in more modest clothing. The largest building at Mitzpe Gvulot, built of solid bricks, was the security headquarters and watch tower.
In 1949 Kibbutz Gvulot moved 1 km north of its present location, and the buildings of the post were abandoned until their reconstruction in 1996 as part of an initiative by the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, the JNF and the Eshkol Regional Council. A visitor centre was set up and the site was declared a national heritage site.
Thanks to the JNF and Jewish Agency leaders who foresaw the importance of the Negev desert for the future of the State of Israel, three mitzpim (observation points) were established in 1943: Mitzpe Gvulot, Revivim and Beit Eshel. A dense network of settlements in the northwestern Negev was subsequently established and their extensive agriculture contributes greatly to Israel's economy today.
After visiting Mitzpe Gvulot we moved onto nearby Moshav Talmei Yosef, a remote moshav close to the Egyptian border, to visit the Salad Trail, an organic farm where you can see how it is possible to take a desert and make it bloom.
Shvil HaSalat, or the Salad Trail, was set up by Uri Alon, a farmer and adviser to those looking for farming knowledge on how to grow produce in difficult terrain, both in Israel and abroad. Uri ran a commercial farm at Talmei Yosef before converting it into an educational facility where you can roam the fields, pick, touch, taste and learn about the crops you eat. We stopped by the greenhouse where 15 varieties of cherry tomatoes are grown, pulled three different colours of carrots from a field (did you know carrots weren't always orange?), tasted cucumbers, edible flowers and herbs, and observed some of the most up to date agricultural technologies. At every stop of our tour we received an explanation - why the tomatoes grow upwards and why there were enormous bees in the greenhouse - followed by some picking and eating. Yum!
We baked pitot on the saj (a saj is a cooking grill used in the Middle East made of metal and shaped like a dome, with a heat source underneath it) and dipped them in za'atar and olive oil. Afterwards we visited the herbal greenhouse where we learnt about medicinal herbs. We touched, we smelt and we learnt about their essential oils.
A flock of homing pigeons ("the e-mail of the ancient world") is also a fixture on the trail. The Israel Defence Forces (and the Haganah before Israel was founded in 1948) used homing pigeons in the defence of Israel when it was first founded, and in the defence of the Jewish community before Israeli independence. On our tour each family released a pigeon and watched it fly. Aside from expertise in agriculture, Uri Alon is one of Israel's champion racing pigeon trainers. It was his aunt who brought a flock of homing pigeons from Tel Aviv to the Negev during the 1948 war to help the fighters down south communicate with their commanders. This aunt was the inspiration for the female character in author Meir Shalev's well-known novel, "A Pigeon and a Boy."
The Salad Trail was much more than a pick-your-own produce farm. Being in the middle of the desert and then discovering fields of vegetables and greenhouses full of juicy red, yellow and even striped tomatoes was a fascinating and delicious experience. Uri Alon is most certainly living his - and Ben Gurion's - dream of making the desert bloom.
Our final stop of the day was at the San Pedro Cactus Farm, also on Moshav Talmei Yosef. The farm supplies cactus and succulent plants to many of the nurseries in Israel, from Nahariya in the north, to Eilat in the south. Collectors, nursery owners, garden landscapers, and cactus lovers come from all over Israel to find rare plants that are not sold in regular nurseries. The farm sells thousands of species of cacti and succulents in all sizes, shapes and colours; they even sell the 'magic' Hoodia plant used by the San (formerly Bushmen) of the Kalahari. They also have their own private collection for viewing which we unfortunately did not see on the day we visited.
San Pedro also offers accommodation in a "Khan" (the Turkish word for travellers lodge) which is suitable for couples and for a family or group of friends seeking the quiet and relaxation of the desert. It is equipped with mattresses and pillows, and there are showers and bathrooms for your convenience, as well as a spacious lawn and of course a garden of giant cacti.
The beautiful cacti and succulents of all colours and sizes at San Pedro were truly a sight to see. Far from the noise of the city, surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of the desert, a visit to the nursery was the perfect way to end a great day out.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Sam's Album

For the second time this summer I made the THIRD Bar Mitzvah album for members of the same family. Sam celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the beginning of October. I made an album for his brother Noah back in 2014 and for Ben in 2012. Now the family has a full set of Handmade in Israel albums... until the weddings start anyway!
Sam's interests include playing Pokémon GO on his telephone, watching and reading The Simpsons comic books, making pancakes, playing on the Wii, getting together with friends and playing Nerf Guns, and riding his scooter and bicycle. He also has a favourite New York baseball cap which he loves to wear. Mum asked me to show it on the album cover. Finally, Sam's favourite colour is blue so I created the album in various shades of blue which also matched the colours of his Bar Mitzvah invitation. Mum preferred a Magen David (Shield of David, or as it is more commonly known, the Star of David) in the corners of the pages, like she chose for Sam's older brothers too.
I have shown bespectacled Sam on his scooter, with his black Moto G phone in his hand and some Pokemon characters and balls flying around him. He is wearing his favourite baseball cap. Sam's name is written in both English and Hebrew along with the word Bar Mitzvah and the date of the Bar Mitzvah ceremony.
I decorated five pages inside the book, the first page featuring Bart and Homer, Sam's two favourite Simpson's characters, above. Next I decorated a page with a frying pan and pancake - yummy - followed by a page showing his Wii console and controller. Then I added a big blue and orange Nerf Gun. I know all about Nerf blasters since my own son has an obsession with them too. Finally, the last of the five pages shows Sam's black bike. Each page also features a grey Magen David.
Mum was really pleased with the album. "You are so talented! The album looks amazing, I can't wait for Sam to see it." she messaged me. "Thank you so much."
Happily Sam loved the album when he saw it too.